Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fall Creativity

 (picture courtesy of

It was our turn to host the small group from church.  Even though I wanted to keep the evening simple, the occasion was a motivator to be creative with food preparations, decor and planning a theme to discuss and pray around.

Fall, naturally, would be my focus for our November 1st evening. I searched through familiar recipes for old time favorites and perused Pinterest as nonchalantly as I could-trying to avoid this cyber idea-giant's power to suck me under a creative stupor-for some new and exciting way to use pumpkin. A pan of lasagna in the freezer would save time, so I would add interesting side dishes to keep the meal from being too just-like-any-other-Italian menu. The choices were made: homemade bread from New York Times  with a dipping oil spices mix from a Carrabba's copycat recipe, fresh green salad with strawberries, walnuts and cranraisins, and my mom's apple salad recipe. The Pinterest savory pumpkin dip with crackers became the appetizer and an apple cake filled in for dessert.(Not the grand finale I had hoped for so will be booting out that recipe!)

I love decorating for the seasons but not enough to stash a huge closet full of stuff or to plan well enough ahead so I'm not just getting around to the bedecking as the season is expiring. Since this event was on the front end of autumn I could try out some of those stored away Pinterest board ideas and bedazzle the neighborhood with my Fall show.

This working gal needed to start early in the week for the shopping and gathering sessions --a stop at Aldi's over lunch on Tues., Kroger's after work on Wed,  as much food prep as possible spread over any free evenings before the day of, and a woods walk scheduled to select splashes of color in leaf fronds and sprigs of berry clusters. In the midst of the busyness I prayed for calmness, creativity and sensibility, for I know how my ideas can mushroom to be bigger than my capabilities.

My husband came up with a topic for discussion, of letting go of not just the things that "easily beset us", but the good things that may need to change or be lopped off.  Scripture that seemed fitting for that topic was Philippians 3:10-14:

   10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Change might look like death, just as the leaves die and fall from the trees and everything turns brown.  But in reality, much of living plants are actually just hibernating and will again become green and fertile in the new season of spring. In the Father's plan even this dying off process has it's beauty as we admire the bright colors of Fall.  It can be the same in our lives.  His beauty will shine through our times of change even though it may be an unpleasant, and unwelcomed interval in the journey.

Now the fun part of putting it all together.  Here's what the front porch looked like:

And the table centerpiece:

I don't have a picture of the spread of food or the happy faces of our friends as they enjoyed the evening, but
it was a great time of growing deeper in our relationships and considering where each of us is at in the seasons of our lives. One couple is facing a fight with cancer while Kevin and I are adjusting to our daughter, Amanda, and her family moving to Virginia. The sting of letting her go is especially hard for Dad. We ended the evening praying for each other and for our nation in its own season of change.

What about you? Any hard changes being forced on you, or choices you're making that require hard sacrifices? Keep on your smile and wear that colorful coat of God's love, patchworked with grace, strength and hope. How about this for some helpful advice?

1 Peter 4:8

The Message (MSG)
7-11 Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grace is Giving Thanks

"We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.
Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives.  Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His  grace." 
-AnnVoskamp from one thousand gifts

Ever have a season where you pray on a certain topic and wait expectantly for change to come?  It's  not a time of crisis and maybe the prayer just starts as a good thought and you keep praying, as you remember, and after awhile you realize, this is something my heart is longing for and it's not going away. Then I notice God's fingerprints on that subject showing up on circumstances or in books I'm reading.

For me right now it's about grace and thanksgiving and "please give me a heart that loves others as you love me." I think it started with the love prayer as I noticed how unloving I could be. Like the time I was asked to meet with someone who was making a wrong moral choice.  I started out listening well, but I think I was more concerned that she hear the truth than I was about loving her and extending grace. God's kindness that leads us to repentance was lost in my translation of God's love language. Or unloving times towards myself where condemnation and accusation were winning at beating me up. And realizing how my proneness to rejection was an indication of how wrapped up I was in self. Those vain imaginations had no problem blowing up nobodylikesme balloons. They could throw a mean party in record time!

So I became intentional about praying the love prayer more regularly. And the message of grace seemed to appear everywhere. Grace that was audacious enough to suggest that God's love for me was constant, in my failures, in my sin, in my successes and in everything in between. His rebukes were not scoldings to shame me, but stern reminders that His forgiveness had already covered all my sins and He was ready to pick me up and continue on, using the experience to teach me more about depending on Him and keeping in step with the Spirit.  I really don't think any of us can love like He does until we understand more about His amazing love to us demonstrated by the grace he shows us through Jesus. I want grace to be the hound dog that sniffs out any self righteousness and better than thou substances hiding in my attitudes and belief system.

"If it took grace to save us, how can we think that it takes our own skill to make it in the Christian life? If our own efforts and merit couldn't take care of our sin and failure in the first place, what makes you think they can now?"    -Kay Arthur

The practice of praying before eating is often referred to as 'saying grace'.  Saying grace is giving thanks. Grace is undeserved favor and comes from the Latin work gratia. One meaning of gratia is gratitude or thanks. I'm discovering how closely related a grace-filled heart is to a thankful heart.  In this quest to learn how to love, it's been important to keep a heart of thanksgiving.  It's hard to be critical and judgmental of others when I'm being thankful for their good qualities. When I remember my friendships are undeserved gifts from my Father, my thankfulness overlooks their faults and my love for them can grow. When a fault can't be overlooked, I am thankful His grace is teaching me how to love enough to be honest and not overlook sins that can blind us and bring harm and deception.

"Thanksgiving---giving thanks in everything---is what prepares the way for salvation's whole restoration.  Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks."
 --Ann Voskamp in one thousand gifts

So is the prayer working? I believe, least I see glimpses of growth. I get another opportunity to listen to a heart caught up in ungodly things.  This time I am much more aware of His grace breathing between us and around us.  There is a rhythm to this grace and I want to work with the Healer and Reformer toward wholeness. But I only get the chance the one or two times we meet and then our time is cut off. Instead of  succumbing to the why I wasn't the one to continue with her in the journey, I know I have danced in His grace with her and I will be confident that He is working for the best in her and me. No big deal...Yes! big deal, for rejection and condemnation had little to say in the matter. And I mean just a little, compared to the filibusters they got away with before.  It must be His love is working miracles in me and I am thankful.

Ann Voskamp made a list of 1,000 gifts she was thankful for.

My thanksgiving list, for now:
-red burning bushes of Fall
-skyping family
-breakfast with friends
-reaching out and touching with texting
-a new recipe - pumpkin dip
-a cup of robust coffee to start the day
-the newest find at a resale
-Pandora station of praise music
-lying in bed beside the man who loves me
-an unexpected contact with a friend on a Facebook chat
-playing Euchre with friends

What are you thankful for right now? Are you being loved extravagantly? Are you better than you deserve?

Keep working, Father. Even when I sleep, your word says you instruct me. I open my heart to your amazing love and grace.